by Nathan Coley, commissioned by Tideway
Artist Nathan Coley has been commissioned by Tideway to create an artwork for the new public realm site at Bazalgette Embankment.
The artist has been developing a bold approach with the design team, in fitting with the scale and setting of the Bazalgette Embankment. A series of different shaped ‘stages’ positioned through the site will create a lyrical ‘happenstance’ – spaces where people can sit, view, play, meet and gather.
The sculptures all work together as a gathering, or family, creating playful interactions and inviting different ways of experiencing and viewing the place – whether standing on the foreshore, Blackfriars Bridge and Blackfriars Station platform or looking across from the South Bank.
Stages will be a first for London – an artwork formally integrated within a public space and part of its experience. The site and the stages could become a new venue for cultural programmes. Working in collaboration with the design team the stages are integral to the development of the Blackfriars public space; together they are committed to creating a valued memorable and romantic new space for London.The artist’s brief intended to create opportunities for genuine innovation and dialogue between the artist and the design and engineering teams to achieve a contemporary appearance and experience of the public realm whilst drawing on its past heritage and existing setting as well as the general experience of the river context.
Nathan Coley’s response to this site has been to consider the impact of Bazalgette’s legacy, including that of the political structure of London. Stages are proposed as a series of objects in conversation with one another and are a contemporary reflection on the heroic stance of Bazalgette. They respond to the Heritage Interpretation Strategy’s emphasis on Bazalgette’s engineering and the creation of the Victoria Embankment, making public spaces for the common good and translating a massive feat of engineering into a progressive and inclusive endeavour.
The underlining concept for Stages is as an accessible and open invitation to all. The artwork comprises of five stages and their locations relate to the elevations from the South Bank, from Blackfriars Bridge and from eye level in and around the site. They frame views to and from the river and create focal points at important thresholds in and out of the space. They add to the site’s drama and create shelter from the wind and sun, as well as the structure for a ‘water wall’. The size of the stages are modest for the scale of the public realm (over 250m in length), ranging from 4m to 9m high. They are set within the different levels of the space, so may not appear that tall. Running from West to East the stages are as follows:
Stage: this dynamic form frames the view to the west and invites people down to the water’s edge. It connects with the river wall, its vertical plane giving a backdrop and focus to the protruding horizontal plane.This sculpture acts as both somewhere to sit, and somewhere to be seen.
Zig Zag: this sculpture is an angled zig-zag for sitting, performing, and providing shelter against the sun, wind and rain. Together with ‘Stage’ it helps frame the western end of the public space and make a connection back to the road level.
Waterwall: is located in the landscaped terraces area and acts as a water feature to the public realm. It is the tallest of the stages though the base level is set down in the sunken area of this landscape feature. It is also one of the most complex due to the specialist nature of the water feature and related servicing requirements. The vertical element of the waterwall is sloped to create visual interest of the form and assist in the flow of water down the wall. The clad surface to the waterwall has been developed by the artist to be ribbed for similar reasons. The exact nature and size of the ribs have yet to be confirmed by the fabricator and the testing, but they are irregular and broken to create movement and disruption of the water and increased visual interest. There is a pool at the base of the sculpture. The full height is 8.825m tall, 200mm width (plus ribs of varying depths up to 150mm) and variable length.
The Twins: two stages integrated in the river wall of different widths. They frame views from the north and south banks. This sculpture is both a wall and a walkway.
Kicker: an integrated sculpture to link the levels of the upper terrace and Fleet path which acts as the balustrade at the upper level.The sculptures are a combination of cast concrete and concrete cladding, it is a Techcrete limestone concrete with a black aggregate (basalt/quartz). The intention is to achieve a finished surface that is cast concrete and appears monolithic with a texture, so is not smooth or highly polished and as dark as possible.
To Concrete and Beyond: Controversially, in the building of the London sewer system between 1859 and 1867, Bazalgette decided that instead of using Roman cement to hold together the brickwork of the tunnel, he would use a new material instead: Portland cement. It was a radical choice at the time, but he had concluded that it had superior strength and durability to Roman cement when submerged and would be the essential ingredient necessary to make the sewers of London efficient and long lived. Without the invention of Portland cement, much of the development undertaken in London in the 19th century would not have stood the test of time and much would not have been capable of having been developed at all. Not only did Bazalgette’s sewers rely upon a strong waterproof cement, so did the construction of the London docks. In short, life in the 19th century was improved through one man’s innovation and invention and it is something all too easily taken for granted. The great engineers and contemporaries Brunel and Bazalgette recognised its importance and had courage in their convictions to put it to good use.
The five sculptures reference the invisible heroic engineering of Bazalgette’s Victorian sewer and the material they are made from is celebrated and elevated in response.Working with the design team Coley’s proposal also helps narrate the journey of the River Fleet down from Hampstead through the different representative landscape treatment within the public space –from deciduous trees to meadow and marsh.